Your View

Your view: the response to Katrina

Harry’s Place reader Hazel Jackson wrote Friday:

I have been watching the news coverage of the disaster wreaked by Katrina, shocked and appalled.

Last night I googled the likely impact of a Force 5 Hurricane hitting New Orleans. I found a whole string of reports, warnings studies, going back several years, many very detailed and totally accurate about how it would affect New Orleans, in fact just as it has done. One report even said there would be around 100,000 people left stranded in the city when it happened.

I also read incredulously, that the head of FEMA blamed the Mayor for the problems in the Sports Dome – apparently it was the Mayor’s responsibility to bus the remaining residents out – 100,000 people? What – on transporter beams? Also late last night, I caught a report by Anderson Cooper of CNN on the scene in Biloxi interviewing Senator Mary Landrieu of Lousiana on video link. He was clearly distressed and said that three days after the event with the town reduced to matchsticks, very little help had arrived and what was she doing about it? All he got was a long litany of praise, recited by Senator Landrieu like a befuddled oscar winner, to the wonderful authorities, all named, right up to the President, who were doing so much for her state and the victims. Anderson could scarecely contain his anger at her response.

And I realised that to Senator Landrieu and probably the head of FEMA as well the poor blacks of New Orleans hardly existed.

Tonight (Friday) I just watched Bloomberg News (which I get on cable) and heard a Wall Street commentator make the same comments as the Head of FEMA – It’s all the Mayor’s fault for not bussing out the citizens. In any case New Orleans, the Wall Street guy added, represents such a small part of the economy – around 3.7% – that apart from a blip in gasoline prices and some discomfort for Dubya, its not really significant…..the destitute citizens didn’t even rate a mention..

Also tonight it seems that the US has turned down help from the rest of the world – even from UN agencies with experience of setting up camps and tracing relatives.

How come after 4 days there are still US citizens with nothing no food no water no clothes sleeping rough and the US is turning down help?. How come it seems quite a lot of US citizens have very little sympathy for them?.

Food and water was being dropped on Indonesia and Sri Lanka within 24 hours of the 2004 tsunami. When the tsunami hit Indonesia, I sent a donation, via Paypal, to a local charity which was based there (normally working on wildlife conservation). They were on the spot, had contacts and jeeps. The first thing they did was to purchase several thousand plastic buckets and pack these with brushes, disinfectant, survival blankets, toiletries and water, and issue them to destitute families. They ferried many loads of these up and down the only road open to the stranded citizens of Banda Aceh ( it was called the Banda Aceh Bucket brigade). Yet the US seems unable to organise even this.

A BBC reporter tonight said they drove to Alabama today to get petrol and found only one relief vehicle, that of a private citizen who had driven up from California with water supplies he had purchased himself. It is quite beyond belief here in the UK.

Yes, “beyond belief” is the phrase that keeps running through my head– not just the savage destruction wrought by the hurricane, but the utter failure of the authorities to deal with it promptly and efficiently.

When someone as allergic to self-criticism, accountability and second-guessing as President Bush calls the federal effort “not acceptable,” you know there was a failure of enormous proportions.

When conservative Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana gives the federal government a grade “F” for its response to the disaster so far (an interesting contrast to the Democrat Landrieu), you know that even Bush loyalists in Congress are not going to fall on their swords for him.

On the positive side (unfortunately too late for those who have suffered and died needlessly), there are self-correcting mechanisms in this country, and I expect them to be operating at full strength in the weeks, months and years ahead.